Some 2024 GOP competitors echo Trump on the trail
Donald Trump's rhetoric and slogans are practically ubiquitous on the 2024 campaign trail – sometimes even at rallies and events where the former president isn't the featured candidate.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his presidential campaign by declaring, "I'm running to lead the Great American Comeback." It's a slogan Trump used in his 2020 State of the Union speech, and it was the title of a digital video released by the Trump White House previewing the address.
Whether DeSantis intended to borrow the phrase from Trump or happened upon it on his own, the use of the quote prompted a quick response from the Trump campaign.
"ICYMI: Ron DeSantis Blatantly Plagiarizes President Trump's "Great American Comeback," the subject line of one Trump campaign press release read.
The accusation surfaced again in a press release mocking DeSantis' rocky campaign launch on Twitter Spaces.
"Amid a catastrophic failure to launch, Ron DeSantis announced his candidacy with 'Great American Comeback,' a phrase stolen from President Donald J. Trump's 2020 State of the Union address," the release said.
The DeSantis campaign has not responded to a request for comment.
And the Florida governor isn't the only one who appears to be borrowing Trump phraseology. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who announced his campaign on June 7, told voters proclaimed that Iowa was the perfect place to "start the Great American comeback."
He also used the phrase at the Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference on June 23.
"Like all of you, I know in my heart of hearts we're just a year and a half away from a great American comeback," Pence said.
Repetitions – and variations – on Trump's 2016 campaign call to "build the wall" have also been uttered by multiple 2024 GOP presidential contenders.
Trump declared in 2015 as he announced his presidential candidacy that he would build the southern border wall.
"I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively, " Trump said. "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border."
Like Trump, DeSantis also has a plan to build a wall, and he's repeated the pledge on multiple occasions since the start of his campaign. He brought it up last month at a town hall in Texas that was focused on his border policy.
"We are going to build a wall," DeSantis said. "Walls work."
The Florida governor expanded on the statement later that day: "We will be on a mission to stop the invasion at our southern border, to fight the drug cartels that are poisoning our citizenry, to build the border wall and to reestablish the sovereignty of this nation."
He also promised to deliver on a mass deportation program – a promise Trump made during his presidency, but did not follow through with.
"I think we would be much more assertive than he was in his first administration," DeSantis said in Texas last month.
DeSantis is joined by several fellow GOP candidates in the call for a wall. Many have vowed to prioritize building the wall and finish what Trump started.
"We will turn our attention to our southern border and build a wall," candidate Tim Scott said at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in June.
So, are these candidates marketing themselves as "Trump 2.0" to take on the former president? Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountability Project, attributes these echoes to the way Trump changed the very constitution of the GOP.
"You have to recognize that Donald Trump fundamentally changed the Republican party," Ramer said. "If your idea is that you want to win an election, of course you are going to go where the party goes."
Recent CBS News polling also shows Trump leading in the early stage of the primary campaign, with 61% of likely GOP voters saying they'd vote for him if the election were held today.
Further, a CBS News poll from June 11 showed that if Trump is not the nominee, 74% of likely GOP voters want the nominee to be "similar to Trump." This may lead candidates to believe it's in their interest to stick close to the front runner's ideas and rhetoric.
Ramer says he's also seeing many Republican voters starting to "shop around for alternatives to Trump" – especially those who are concerned about fielding a candidate who can beat President Biden.
David Barker, a professor of Government and the Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, agrees that similarity to Trump could be an important quality for Republican primary contenders.
"It is certainly in their best interest when it comes to winning a Republican primary," Barker said.
On the trail, DeSantis has sought to portray himself as a kind of Trump without the drama, and is trying to highlight his record in Florida, appealing to Trump voters through his "culture wars" and "fighting the woke" in education, abortion and even business, embracing a high-profile feud with Disney after contesting its support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Barker says this attitude has become a necessity for Republican candidates.
"The party is just radically more combative than it used to be," Barker said. "To make it as a Republican now, you have to demonstrate that you are a no-holds-barred, bloody-knuckle battler. You're gonna stand up and fight and 'own those libs.' In some ways, that's all that matters."
He attributes this trend to earlier conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.
"Trump obviously took it to another level," Barker said. "He has been more of an acceleration than a cause."
But if someone like DeSantis were to win the GOP nomination and gain the support of those looking for an alternative to Trump, the challenge will be winning over independent and moderate Republican voters in the general election. That is why Ramer regards the Trump modeling as a "losing strategy" for GOP candidates. Ramer says it will force the nominee to then shift in the general election to court these voters, potentially alienating the more right-wing Republican base that tends to vote in the primaries.
"It is going to be tough to pivot back in the general election," Ramer said.
And Barker notes that the Trump-like behavior is not necessarily appealing to swing voters.
"The very behavior that enables them to be attractive to a median Republican primary voter is the kind of behavior that turns off swing voters," Barker said. "They're in a pickle."